In our last post examining the Letter to the Hebrews, we saw how real the supernatural is. As Hamlet told an old college buddy, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, / Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Yet even those spiritual beings and realities that our eyes haven’t (or can’t) see are subject to the rule and control of King Jesus. He is not an absentee king, and he uses the spiritual beings of our world — both good and evil — to do his good and perfect will.
But the author of Hebrews wants to do much more than persuade us that angels and demons exist. In the beginning of chapter 2, he answers that most serious question: “So what?” Why should I care that Jesus is better than the angels? This is his answer:
We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.
— Hebrews 2:1-4 (NIV)
Left to ourselves, we don’t “pay more careful attention” (2:1) to Jesus. Instead, our tendency (and it is a dangerous one) is to “drift away.” We’re called to set our course and stick to it, to aim everything in our lives toward loving and obeying the High King of heaven. But what do we do? We get caught up in the daily grind of living in a corrupted world full of pain and confusion. Our jobs are hard. Our relationships are tiring. Our desires go unfulfilled. And slowly, day by day and hour by hour, we drift off course, away from the only safe port in a stormy and unpredictable sea.
Of course, this is exactly what our King told us would happen: life presses hard on us, and many who claim to be his subjects will abandon him because of it (Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23). He isn’t so harsh as to leave us without a warning of the dangers we face — he loves us! We see that in the way his love warns us against the great danger our souls face of drifting away from knowing him and obeying him. Yet the warning is serious: the church in the Old Testament was held responsible for obeying a message of salvation from God delivered by angels (see Acts 7:53 for the same point and two examples in Exodus 32:25-28 and Leviticus 10:1-2). The salvation was real, and so was the punishment for ignoring it. If the angelic messengers turned out to be trustworthy, aren’t Jesus and his message to be believed all the more?
As if the mere word of Jesus weren’t enough, he loves us enough to give us corroborating testimonies. God himself is a witness to the truth of the gospel, and he affirmed its reliability “by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will” (2:4). He also allowed the original readers of this letter to hear eyewitness accounts supporting the claims of Jesus and his apostles. Could there be any more convincing witnesses? Could the evidence have been any clearer? If not, could the truth possibly be ignored? Sadly, the answer is a resounding “yes.”
We need to remember that this warning is primarily for those who have affirmed their belief in Jesus and claimed him as their king. The warning is for us so that “we do not drift away” (2:1). Through this passage of Scripture, God wants us to ask whether our lives need a course correction. Do we say one thing about our relationship with God while unknowingly doing otherwise? Are we like so many of the believers of the Old Testament who heard the message of deliverance from sin and misery only to drift away from it? Their punishment should lead us to change — to repent — and to renew our attention to God’s message. Don’t ignore such a great salvation. And don’t ignore the Son of God, the King of angels, who died to deliver it to us.